The Bean Blog (currently on hiatus)

Friday, August 27, 2004

Fine: the Word that Means Nothing, but Everyone Wants to Hear

Many people have me how my grandfather is doing since my grandmother died. I tell them honestly, "Well, he's really depressed and lonely." Then they say something like, "Well, is he okay, though? Is he functioning?"

These are two very different questions. Is he okay? No. No, he's not. None of us are. People ask me how I'm doing, and I tell them I'm depressed, and they say, "You're doing okay." When I ask them what they mean, they point out that I can get up in the morning, feed myself, clean myself, have a conversation, etc. etc. Being able to fulfill these requirements does not add up to "okay" in my book. Yes, I do all of these things. So does my grandfather and my mother and my aunt. But we are not okay. We are in pain. We are sad. We are hurting. We miss the matriarch of our family, the woman who held us all together.

I understand the function of asking someone "How are you?" simply as a part of the social contract. You see someone you know, and our culture dictates that the exchange of communication begins in a set pattern: "Hello." "Hi." "How are you?" "Fine, and you?" "Good." That's the script. From there on out, it can go anyway you to take it, but you are expected to follow that script, almost to the letter, for the first ten seconds or so. And I'm willing to follow it. In fact, I like it. What pisses me off is when people try to interject that script into something serious, like inquiring about how someone is doing following the death of a family member.

When I am confronted with that script at the beginning of an encounter with someone, I still follow it, even though I am not doing "fine." Nonetheless, I will take part in the social contract. However, when I have been spending time with someone, and the subject of my grandmother's passing comes up, and then I am asked again how I am doing within that context, I am going to give an honest answer. And I hate the way people dismiss what I have to say. "You're depressed? But you can still get around and do things? Oh, then you're fine." Clearly, they don't want to know how I'm doing. They just want to hear that magic, meaningless word, "Fine."

Maybe I should just give them what they want in the future. I just won't talk about my grandmother and how I am grieving. I like to let people share in my life and what's going on, but as it turns out, they only seem to want to hear me tell my funny stories, and this story is not a funny one.


  • That script is the basis for a lot of dishonesty in our society. It's become the cultural norm to pretend to be something you are not: "fine". Have you ever noticed that when "breaking" the script, most people will begin with "to tell you the truth ..."?

    "Hi, how are you"
    "To tell you the truth, I'm feeling crappy."

    As if to say they don't normally tell the truth!

    Also, I think a lot of people answer "fine" because they are so out of touch with themselves they simply don't KNOW how they feel. In my own recovery, I try to be aware of how I feel and, when asked, tell the truth. It's called "being true to yourself". This is especially important with people with whom I would like to cultivate friendships. How else would I expect them to get to "know" me?

    Thanks for sharing your feelings, Oz. There's nothing wrong with having real feelings. Feelings are like the weather in Michigan: if you don't like what it is at the time, stick around a while - it'll change.

    Sending good thoughts your way ...

    By Blogger NotCuredYet, at 1:50 PM, August 27, 2004  

  • I find the "social script" as you put it, to be rather annoying. Don't ask me if you don't care. I'm like you; I WILL tell a person how I am, even if it's something other than fine or okay.

    Anymore I'll answer the 'Hi. How are you?' line with a weather response just to throw them off. "Fair to moderate." or "Eh... I'm feeling a little overcast." That sort of thing. Sometimes it serves as a nice metaphor for how I really feel. Other times it's just a way to abort other people's attempts to seem interested in my life that failed before it began.

    By Blogger Newell, at 3:12 PM, August 27, 2004  

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